Merry Christmas (Mills & Boon Vintage 90s Modern)

By: Emma Darcy

CHAPTER ONE

“UNCLE NICK? You asked me what I want for Christmas?”

Kimberly’s belligerent tone was forewarning enough that Nick was not going to like it. His twelve-year-old niece could be as difficult and as trying as a fully fledged teenager. She’d been sulking in her room ever since Rachel had arrived for Sunday brunch and this sudden, dramatic challenge, fired at him from the doorway to the balcony, was not a promise of peace and harmony. The plot, he deduced, was to demand something totally unreasonable and stir contention.

“Mmmh?” he said non-committally, staying behind his newspaper in the hope of taking the sting out of the bait.

Rachel’s newspaper rustled down. Undoubtedly she was looking at Kimberly with a brightly encouraging smile, doing her best to win the girl over. An increasingly futile exercise, Nick thought gloomily.

“I want my real mother.”

The shock of it almost wiped him out. The wallop to his heart took some absorbing and his mind totally fused. Fortunately his hands went into clench mode, keeping the newspaper up in cover defence while the initial impact of the surprise attack gave way to fast and furious thought.

Her real mother...was it a try-on, a fantasy, or sure knowledge? Impossible to tell without looking at her. He composed his face into an expression of puzzled inquiry and lowered his newspaper.

“I beg your pardon?”

Fierce green eyes scorned his bluff. “You know, Uncle Nick. The solicitor would have told you when Mum and Dad died. You couldn’t have become my legal guardian without knowing.”

Still he played it warily. “What am I supposed to know, Kimberly?”

“That I was adopted.”

Absolute certainty looked him straight in the face. It threw Nick into confusion. Kimberly was not supposed to know. His sister had been almost paranoid about keeping the secret. After the fatal accident last year, Nick had thought it best to keep the knowledge from his niece until she was eighteen. After all, losing both parents in traumatic circumstances and learning to live with an uncle was a big enough adjustment to make. Any further erosion of her sense of security did not seem a good idea.

“I have a real mother,” came the vehement assertion, her chin tilting defiantly, her eyes flashing resentment at Rachel before pinning Nick again. “I want to be with her for Christmas.”

He folded the newspaper and set it aside, realising this confrontation was very serious, indeed. ‘How long have you known, Kimberly?” he asked quietly.

“Ages,” she tossed at him.

“Who told you?” It had to be Colin, he thought. His sister’s husband had been a gentle man, dominated by Denise for the most part, yet retaining an innate personal dignity and integrity that would not be shaken over matters he considered “right.”

“No one told me,” Kimberly answered loftily. “I figured it out for myself.”

That rocked him. Had he conceded confirmation too soon? Too easily? How on earth could Kimberly figure it out for herself?

If someone had actually worked at matching a child to a family to ensure an adopted baby looked like natural offspring, Kimberly would be a prime example of outstanding success. She could easily be claimed by his side of the family.

She was long-legged and tall, like himself and his sister. Her black hair had the same springy texture and she even had a widow’s peak hairline, a family feature that went back generations. The eye colour—green instead of brown—was easily explained with Colin’s eyes being hazel. There were untraceable differences—every person was uniquely individual—but if his sister had declared her adopted child her own flesh and blood, Nick would never have doubted it.

So why had Kimberly?

“Would you mind telling me what gave it away to you?” he asked, trying to keep his voice calmly controlled.

“The photographs,” she said as though throwing down irrefutable proof.

Nick had no idea what she was talking about.

She flounced forward and picked a cherry off the fruit platter he and Rachel had been sharing, popped it into her mouth and ostentatiously chewed it, hugging her budding chest, aggressively holding the floor, waiting for him to comment. Her green eyes had a fighting gleam.

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